We took our 1971 Mercedes 250C out for a drive yesterday. It was overcast with a little rain, but not terrible. Our destination was Backwoods Brewing Company, an independent brew pub in Carson, WA. It’s about 50 miles away in the Columbia Gorge, not far from the site of the 2022 SCM 1000, Skamania Lodge.

Our 250 whisperer, Chip Starr, has got the Benz in almost exactly the shape we want it. Most recently, he has installed retractable front seat belts to replace the two-piece Laocoön-style factory ones.

The addition of 560SL front shocks make the car handle with authority, if not precision, while the Weber carb conversion provides the additional power to make use of the more relaxed rear axle ratio from a 300D.

While we were enjoying cruising at 70 mph, I once again bemoaned the fact that I had $40,000 “invested” in this $25,000 car.

Bradley was quick to counter. “Dad, you always resist waiting until the right car comes up on Bring a Trailer and paying a little more for it,” he said. “You kind of cheap out and then complain that a car needs more work than you expected.”

We’ve had this discussion before. I’ve explained that in “pre-BaT” days, the option of watching while a car being auctioned was picked to death by trolls didn’t exist. You based your decision on a classified ad, a conversation with the seller and perhaps a casual look-over by friends.

Our Mercedes was a solid car with good provenance, but it had needs. I paid $18k for it after a cursory glance around what is a thin market. The Solex carburetion was a mess. If the car had been offered on BaT, I doubt it would have brought $15k.

However, it was in exactly the configuration I wanted: no sunroof, working a/c, power windows and a floor shift. The paint and interior were excellent. I bought it from the family of the original owner, and it still had its German-delivery “Zol” plates on it.

However, when good friend Chris Bright drove this “needs nothing” car to Portland from Los Angeles, he suffered a never-ending series of nearly trip-ending dramas, including frequent stalling on the freeway and constant hot running. It also seemed to rev high at freeway speeds.

Knowing what I do now, before making a purchase I would have gone into my 250C hunting blind and waited until a very nice, good running car came along — one recommended by SCM Contributor Pierre Hedary or offered on BaT by Dean Laumbach (another SCM contributor) or Roy Spencer of Mercedes Heritage.

It might have cost me nearly $30k, but I would have had a machine that was ready to go and enjoy.

If my car’s Solexes had been properly sorted to start with, I wouldn’t have succumbed to the narcotic of a pair of Weber 32/36 DGEVs. And without the significant increase in power, I might have stayed with the stock rear axle. And perhaps I wouldn’t have pushed for the increased handling capabilities.

In its favor, my 250 is now a nearly perfect 52-year-old family cruiser. It has plenty of power and handles well. The tall greenhouse makes you feel like royalty going down the road. The Webers are still not perfect, as the aftermarket kits lack a solenoid to bump the idle when the a/c is on, and it is not an easy fix. I still haven’t decoded the HVAC controls even after Chip rebuilt them following Pierre’s mentoring.

But all this has come at a cost of nearly $40,000. Would I be just as happy with a $30k 250 with Solexes, and a stock suspension and rear-axle ratio? And a car I could have been enjoying for the eight months this one was in the shop?

I’ll never know, as I bought a car with more needs than I thought, and then went about optimizing it. I’m delighted with the results, if not the cost.

But I agree with Bradley that I could have been more patient.

We are in no hurry as we look around for a Volvo 240, BMW E30, Acura Integra or Toyota Supra with a manual and four seats for Bradley. (As a two-seater, his 1982 Collector’s Edition C3 Corvette is turning out not to be ideal for his friends to pile into when they want to go to the movies.) We will know when the right car comes up, one that has been enthusiast-owned but mostly stock, with no glaring imperfections and no immediate needs. We would be prepared to pay a premium for this car, as we now know that no matter that we pay over “normal market,” it will still be less than buying a deficient car and pouring money into it to make it right.


  1. you could have rebuilt the solex carbs.
    you didn’t need new headlights.
    you are as bad as mosy =t of us once we get our hands on the 30, 40, or 50 Year old car, we wnat it (almost) perfect!!
    good Running!! Ron

  2. We’ve all done this. I remember a 1957 Cadillac that not only cost me a mint, it damn near killed me.

    Live and learn.

    Well, live, and hopefully learn.

    Your son seems to be mastering the art of straight talk. Good for him.

  3. Also, as far as a car for Bradley, do yourselves a favor and include E36 and E46 BMWs in your search.

  4. Don’t worry Keith. I think you’ve done just fine. You have a great looking car that you like to drive; it’s even practical! You took a 50 year old car and upgraded it for modern driving. The old carbs needed replacing (my aunt had this car new and it caught fire), the original US spec lights were like driving by candlelight, the axel ratio was too high for our 80 mph modern driving…etc. You have made a beautiful car of the past a practical modern means of conveyance. That’s gonna cost ya.

  5. Perhaps Bradley needs to wait before speaking. There are no perfect cars. Let me say that again. There are NO perfect cars. No matter where it comes from, no matter how long you wait, a car is going to need fettling. And fettling is what many people enjoy doing, whether or not they admit it.

    Meanwhile, it might be worthwhile for two of Bradley’s friends to try sitting in the back of a Supra before pulling that particular trigger.

    Happy Motoring

  6. All the magazines, blogs, and sites say to usually spend more upfront for a better car than an inexpensive one that will need lots of work and become a money pit. On your side, you couldn’t have foreseen any of the car’s issues. If and when I ever get a collector car (my dream car is a ’63 Corvette Split-Window Sting Ray), I am going to make sure that I have enough funds to buy a decent example, as I have no mechanical nor cosmetic skills whatsoever when it comes to cars. Thanks for the great article! Glenn in Brooklyn, NY.

  7. This story reminds me of my 1965 Harley Electra Glide.

    I loved the finished product, though…..